Wednesday, July 25, 2012


      "So do we need a wilderness permit or anything?"
      "Nahh, there ain't no wilderness up there."
      "What is the bear situation like?"
      "Well there's bears everywhere!"

The large man at the ranger station had the top few buttons of his shirt unbuttoned, revealing a crop of grey hair.  He had just been outside smoking a cigarette when we pulled up, completely unaware that he was, indeed, the ranger.  Apparently we could camp anywhere, the streams all had water in them, and we didn't need to report where we were going with any authorities.  It was like no ranger station experience I had ever had before.

Lauren and I were on the way to her field area in Northern California to map an alleged anticline.  We had flown over the area last fall to scope it out and there looked to be some good outcrops along Mushroom Rock and the adjoining ridge in the forest southeast of Mt Shasta.  The plan was to drive as far as we could, then backpack in and map for a few days.  We figured we would be close enough to the car to make a food run after two days and save ourselves some weight.

That afternoon, Lauren's Corolla gingerly wound it's way up rocky logging roads.  The scene alternated between dry forest and bare scars full of woody piles of trash.  We drove as far as the car could make it, packed up our bags and continued up the road on foot.  After a little ways we came to the Pacific Crest Trail and continued on that.  Within minutes we turned a corner to see Shasta looming ahead of us.

One we had hiked to where we wanted to camp, the options were sparse.  From the trail we just barely caught a glimpse of a bare patch of ground on a ledge below us.  We had to pick our way through sharp bushes to reach it, but it was probably the best spot in the whole area.  The only drawback? No water.

 The view from our campsite.

We explored around for a couple hours, scoping out where we might be able to map the next day.  Much to our dismay, what looked like gentle green meadows from the air were actually dense, malicious bushes often taller than us.  We also found no water near our campsite; so after dinner we ventured off to find "Deer Springs" which was shown on the map.  There were no springs.  We walked further down a forest road towards an enticing blue line on our maps.  Once we heard the sound of running water we ran straight for it, completely missing an open patch of creek and forcing ourselves to crash through a maze of limbs and vines.

The watering hole.

The next day we spent hours slowly crawling through bushes, trying to make our way to outcrops.  It was tedious and kind of painful, but so unusual and unlike anything either of us had done before.  We still had a great time.
 A landslide scarp from above

 Exposed baked contact


 An hour of shwhacking got us here.

Taking it easy at lake Briton

As I have to leave for the airport in 30 minutes, here are some pictures from the rest of the trip.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


I've spent the last two weeks in southwest Montana; Dillon, to be exact.  The same area I spent a summer for my own field camp.  This time, I returned as one of two TA's with a group of 17 geology students and one professor.  Tomorrow I have to leave and I'm not looking forward to it.  This place does something to me, something intangible.  I don't know exactly what it is . . . but I like it.

 On the way to MT we camped in eastern Oregon, juggling happened.
and a nice sunset

It's not that there's anything particularly special about Dillon.  It's a rather typical small town with a twist of college atmosphere (University of Montana Western).  There are cowboys, rednecks and rowdy college kids; every night at the bar there is a row of weathered men with thousand yard stares.  Most of us out of towner's stick out like a sore thumb.

No, it's not Dillon, but Montana as a whole.  The times I've spent here have been some of the most memorable, but even that isn't why I love it so much.  When I'm here I feel at home.  Maybe its the rolling hills of sagebrush that reminds me of eastern Washington, maybe it's doing what I love every day.  In Montana I feel a pull, tugging me out of the cities I've lived in and filling me with the urge to run away.  I could tuck myself into the foothills between scrub desert and the Rocky Mountains and wander the hills forever.  The first night here, the bartender who checked my ID told me how she was from Seattle, "Lived on Capitol Hill for 5 years."  When asked how she ended up in Dillon, she only could shrug and say, "I don't exactly know."  I think I know that feeling.

During field camp the days are busy, but they seem to move at a gentle pace.  Breakfast at 7am, vans leaving at 8, work in the field until 4, dinner at 5:30.  For a few hours the halls are quiet while the students work on projects.  One by one they trickle out into the hallway, passing between rooms for a cribbage game or a few minutes of juggling.  Sometimes we go to the local bars for shuffleboard, pool and $2 well drinks.  Over the summer these bars are overrun with college geologists- tired and sunburned- welcoming the chance to look away from a map for a few hours.

 The students checking out an outcrop. Dinwoody Formation.

 James examining something . . .

 Amy taking notes

 You have to watch out for the cacti!

 Becky teaching. Blackleaf formation.
James helps Kelsey take a strike and dip.

The field areas in which we work are vast and open.  Some days I walked the 1.5 miles from end to end without seeing a soul.  Somehow the 19 other people get swallowed up in the rocky ridges and sage choked valleys so it's just me, the rabbits and an occasional wary rattlesnake.  From a high ridge I can see for miles to green coated mountains surrounding the high desert valley.  Every day around 2 or 3 the clear, blue skies grow dark as a thunderhead builds over the west hills.  It could pass by only emitting ominous rumblings; or, if we are lucky a few minute downpour that douses our burning skin but leaves the students scrambling to protect their precious maps.

 Abby and Audrey taking strikes and dips.

One day we had a break and took a trip to the Lewis and Clark Caverns.  Spending an hour and a half in the sub 50 degree caves was a welcome relief from the balmy hot days in the field.  The tour was lead by an enthusiastic girl with horribly corny jokes that she's probably had to tell hundreds of times.  With a group of twenty-somethings surrounded by provocatively shaped stalactites and stalagmites, the tour was decidedly family UN-friendly.

Aside from the endlessly beautiful landscape, this trip was amazing because I have had the pleasure of working with a top notch group of students.  This has been as much a learning experience for me as them because it is my first time teaching in the field.  Every day I got to spend running from group to group was a joy.  I'm thankful for their willingness to listen and learn as much as for their patience with me as I figured out how to do this for the first time.

 It's not all work and no play.

 Posed learning.

 Rain dance

Geo ladies!

Well now there is just a 15 hour drive between me and my next activity.  Bye for now, Montana!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Volcano Extravaganza, Or: How we didn't actually summit anything

I wish I could tell an epic story about 3 summits in a matter of days.  Of amazing June weather, spectacular views and scaling crappy rock still slippery with snow.  I can't.  What I can write about is Volcano Extravaganza a mountain downpour, double IT band failure, a mysterious foot injury and zero summits.

Mt Jefferson

I know that, statistically, no one summits every mountain they try to climb.  I know that when you plan trips around time off and not around weather windows you decrease your chances even more.  I know I'm a rookie at this and my abilities are and will continue to be a limitation, but I still can't help but feel an overwhelming disappointment at things not working out.

Last Saturday, Peter drove down from Seattle and, after much dragging of feet, we made our way towards Jefferson.  We were planning on hiking in a ways that night, but by the time we made it to the trailhead dusk was weaving it's shadows through the trees and casting a pink glow on the clouds.  Instead, we had a lazy evening camping in the parking lot.  In the morning, we awoke to a heavy downpour and decided to stay in bed until it passed.  A leisurely start had us walking up the trail around 10:30am.

 Pete forgot his boots!  Trail runners and ski boots!

 Whitewater trailhead

We walked for two miles before encountering snow.  Even then, it was patchy for a while and the boot pack was clear and easy to follow.  We stopped for lunch on a high, rocky ridge below the mountain and scouted the rest of our approach.  We were able to scope out a good place to camp on the north ridge that night.

 Hiding from us

 Fun with maps

Green valleys to the west

We continued our walk and were fully in snow by the time we reached the PCT trail junction.  This trip we brought a GPS along with us, not wanting to endure the aimless wanderings we had before; it helped.  To reach the bench we had picked out for camp, we headed straight up the nearest ridge an within two hours we reached a nice flat nook to set up camp.  After a crevasse rescue refresher and dinner, the sun began to set.  We were perched right between layers of high and low clouds that made the sunset the most incredible I have ever seen.

 From the tent

The alarm beeped at 3am and we set about making coffee and breakfast.  By 4 we were hiking up the ridge as the mountain slowly came into view with the dawn.  Once we arrived at the lower reaches of the glacier we roped up and began the long slog upward.  It hadn't frozen much overnight and we cramponed on a breakable crust over calf deep new snow.  It wasn't quick. 

 The sun comes out!


The clouds were clearing and as we hiked farther up the glacier the weather looked more and more promising.  On a small rollover we saw the first crevasse, it looked small and unassuming.  To our left were signs of moats against the rocky north ridge.  I was breaking trail and I took a step.  There was the first crunch of crampons, then the whomp of snow compacting beneath my feet.  I didn't stop there; my leg dropped and I was up to my thigh in snow, an erie airy feeling surrounded my lower leg and foot.  A small hole opened up in front of me and all I saw was dark blue space.  I'll admit it, I freaked out a little.  Sitting there frozen in place I was too scared to try and take another step.  Peter pulled the rope tight and walked me through standing up, probing around for "solid" ground and stepping over the moat.  That was my first crevasse fall; it wasn't much, but I respected where we were a little more at that moment.  I stepped in one more hidden moat crack before basically crawling onto some rocks for a food and water break.  I was convinced every step from that point would send me hurtling into an icy cavern.  

   The Bergschrund

We climbed higher up the Jefferson Park Glacier, crossing jumbled debris from loose, wet slides.  Little depressions in the snow were the only hint of more crevasses waiting hungrily for me.  We had planned  out where to cross the bergschrund the day before, but couldn't actually see if it was doable until we were right there.  A wide snow bridge spanned the gap and as we walked past the crack to the bridge I stopped to peer into the blue sculpted hole.  It drew me in like a cave, I wanted to climb down into it and touch the sides.  I wanted to lean against the smooth curved wall and feel the cold seeping through my back.

From there the slope steepened significantly.  We encountered a slope that had been buffed down to ice by the wind, so Peter build a snow anchor and I led up and over to some rocks.

When we reached the ridge, any semblance of clear weather was gone.  The clouds had rolled in and the wind was fierce.  We could barely make out the ridge we were to follow in front of us.  Peter led us up the knife edge ridge a few meters farther, barely being able to see what lay ahead.

What lay ahead- Spicy exposure

At this point, the decision was clear: we would have to bail.  That doesn't mean it was any easier a decision to make.  We sat at this boulder for minutes, peering into the fog, trying to talk ourselves into turning around.  It was only after a particularly vicious gust of wind and numbness creeping into our limbs that we started walking back down the mountain.  By now we could barely see where we topped out the glacier.  Finding a softer patch of snow than what we ascended, Peter belayed me down the steep part and we were soon plunge stepping toward the snow bridge.  

It was somewhere early in this descent that the familiar sensation crept into my knees.  Had I accidentally stabbed myself with my ice tool?  It sure felt that way.  Shooting pain in the sides of both knees made every step awkward and difficult (regular readers may remember this issue with running.)  For the rest of the climb down only about 70% of my steps happened in the way I actually intended.

 Crossing the bergschrund

Thumbs up if you love crappy weather!

As we continued across the upper glacier, it began to hail (really it's graupel . . . but how many people know that?).  The icy beads ran down the slide paths without even thinking about sticking.  As we crossed streams of ice rolling down the mountain, a rock the size of the grapefruit streaked in front of me.  I could barely get the word "rock!" out of my mouth before it hit Peter right in the calf.  With the weather, visibility and now the threat of rockfall, a sense of urgency drove the rest of our descent.  Once we were out of the slide zone, we calmed down a little.  Lower on the mountain the hail turned to snow and sleet.  Peter stopped to peer in a few "small" crevasses that we had passed without a second glance on the way up.  They weren't as unassuming as we had thought.  One of them went a good 20+ feet before the walls squeezed together and was packed in with snow.  Another one, even lower on the glacier plummeted even deeper before it turned out of view; still two feet wide where it bent.  

By the time we returned to our camp it was an all out downpour.  We ducked inside, trying to avoid getting everything else as wet as we were.  We hadn't brought enough food for another night, otherwise we could hunker down and wait it out.  Peter was starting to feel hypothermic, so we spent a few minutes brewing up hot drinks and organizing our things.  We were able to break down camp quickly and be on our way in the pouring rain.  

I'm sure I was a sight; slipping and sliding, stiff-legged down the first couple slopes (the phenomenon I call "Barbie leg").  My ski poles were the only thing keeping me upright.  We quickly made it to bare trail and for a few flat miles were able to make good time.  Lower down, the weather was almost pleasant.  The rain was gone, and rays of sun were even breaking their way through the clouds.  It was around this time when I stopped being distracted enough to notice the pain in the back of my heel.  It wasn't the usual blister hot-spot, which I am so accustomed to getting, well . . . always.  It was tender and bruised, which was unusual and disconcerting.  

Limping and exhausted, we made it back to the trailhead in the daylight.  Peeling off soaked clothing and boots, I found my heel to be swollen and protruding in a strange way.  We threw everything in the car and made a beeline to the closest restaurant we knew of: Takoda's, in Rainbow, OR.  We knew we couldn't camp that night and realistically climb the next day.  Wet things aside, I knew I couldn't physically climb the next day.  Across the street was a small motel.  We got a room, cranked up the heat and scattered our soaking wet gear about to dry.  

The next day was spent soaking in the Terwilliger Hot Springs (aka Cougar Hot Springs), after a delicious breakfast in town.  We spent hours just sitting and stretching (and abusing my IT band) and drinking as much gatorade as we could stomach.  A much needed day off.  

Messy car.  Turns out there is a mouse living in here.

In the springs we decided to try for Washington the next day.  The forecast was favorable and that mountain seemed to have the most interesting climbing.  We found a nice campground at Big Lake, near the PCT; set up camp and enjoyed some evening sun.  

 Big Lake

 You know I can't resist a picture of some good gnarly wood.
 The back side of Hoodoo and Hayrick Buttes!

In the morning we broke down camp and drove the few minutes to the trailhead.  I put my boots on and was dismayed to find that my heel still hurt, badly.  I figured I would try to walk and see how it went.  The PCT travels through a fresh burn from last year; only grass has begun to grow again.  We moved through an airy ghost forest with just smatterings of green here and there.

After a mile or so, I had to stop denying the pain in my foot.  There was just no way I could do the whole climb.  We sat in the trail for a few minutes, reluctant to actually turn around on such a perfect day (okay fine, I was moping).  

 Three Fingered Jack mocks us.

On our way back to the car I took out my frustration on some burned logs.

Katie smash!

We drove a little ways to a picnic area for a refreshing brew (read: sorrow drowning) and a snack.  Then we drove the road back to Eugene, in the sun with the windows cracked.  

 Mt Washington, looking smug

One mountain that wont let me down

I don't want to say the trip was a disappointment, though I was extremely bummed out about my foot.  We climbed, had an adventure, got to sit in a hot spring for hours and had some lovely evenings camping.  

On the bright side, at least I didn't get any blisters!